We hope that you enjoy our translation. We have at times altered the phrase-
ology to make the text more accessible to readers of English, but we believe
that in doing so we have clarified the meaning of the author’s words. The
primary cultural problem was how to denominate the social structure of
pre-Communist Amdo. The word “tribe,” with its associations of prehistoric
simplicity wholly inappropriate for the highly sophisticated and literate so-
ciety of nomadic Amdo, we have avoided entirely, preferring to use “family”
for a social unit based on a single home, and “clan” (a word introduced into
the English language nearly six hundred years ago precisely for this purpose)
for a wider kinship group. The word “sept” (again with a specialist meaning
appropriate in this context) denotes those groups of “tent” families with a
shared family name (e.g., Naktsang or Lang) who may or may not share the
name of their clan but who are constituent parts of it. In Amdo, clans always
formed larger or smaller associations, structured in a variety of ways, under
“high chiefs,” and to these we have given the name “chiefdoms,” as the Tibetan
language makes it clear that these should not be called “kingdoms.” Phayul,
literally “father home,” has been translated as “native land” rather than “fa-
therland,” which lacks a precise English meaning, or “home,” which is ambig-
uous. However, although truthful, neither the text nor our translation of it
should be considered as a textbook for a study of nomadic society. Naktsang
Nulo wrote his book for an audience familiar with it and is fairly free in his
description of its institutions and practices. We have merely tried to make
things a bit clearer for the general reader.
Some of the original text has been omitted for reasons of length and co-
herence. The original text contained very lengthy descriptions and stories of
nomadic life that all readers agreed were suitable only for a specialist reader-
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